Wings Of Change: The Future Of F1 Aerodynamics

ADITYA GOKHALE| 28th February 2020

Formula 1 has always been the pinnacle of motorsport engineering, forever at the forefront of innovation, perhaps none more so than when it comes to aerodynamics. From Brawn’s ‘double diffuser’ on the 2009 BGP 001, to the ‘F-duct’ on the McLaren in 2010, and the ground effect on the Lotus in 1977, Formula 1’s brightest minds have always pushed the limits to produce cars that can turn easily at speeds greater than 250 km/h. In the last few years, the aerodynamic element has become so complex that the cars leave behind a lot of dirty air, making wheel-to-wheel racing almost impossible. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has been forced to take major steps in order to return the sport to its former glory.

The FIA introduced the 2021 regulation changes, keeping in mind the serious need to shake up the pecking order as well as improve the racing and to attract more teams to F1 by reducing the high costs borne by the teams. In the first article of ‘Rulebook 2021’, we take a look at the aerodynamic changes which will apply from next year.

Simplified Wings and Bargeboard Area

The front wings of the 2021 cars will be very simple with no fins and winglets, just like the current models. The main difference in the front wing will be the shape of the endplates, which will come without vortex creators that may disturb and push air away from the car. The endplate must be connected directly in one plane to the main wing. The tip of the nose will have to be directly connected to the main plane of the front wing. This new front wing will produce almost 40% less downforce compared to the 2018 front wing.

The bargeboard area will also be simplified down to the bone. Rudimentary vertical fins will be allowed, with no horizontal elements on the fins to push the air into the engine cover. This will mean that the engine covers will have to be bigger to facilitate proper engine cooling. The shapes of the vertical elements will be unique to the teams as this is a very important part to send air around the body to the ‘coke-bottle’ area of the car.

Ground Effects

In order to increase downforce, the cars are effectively reverting to ground-effect style from the 1970s and 80s, with a long diffuser from the front all the way to the back. This is achieved via the tunnel under the body using skirts around it. This tunnel creates an area of low-pressure under the car, causing it to get sucked into the ground. This method was used by Lotus in 1977 and 1978, which helped the car gain a higher level of downforce but made it susceptible to crashes as it became unstable on bumpy tracks. The FIA ultimately banned the ground effect devices in 1980. Now, with its reintroduction, 2021 cars will be able to gain downforce without creating excess dirty air.

Tyre Wake Control Devices 

The cars will have a compulsory fin atop the tyre which will streamline the air that comes off of the tyre. This will greatly reduce the amount of vortices that are currently created, and could greatly improve side-by-side racing. The fin will be in addition to the cover to the wheel so that no devices are input to cool the brakes and create disturbed patterns in the air.

Rear Wing

While the rear wing won’t be changing much, it will be losing its ability to use the Drag Reduction System (DRS). While the DRS has been F1’s saving grace in the last few years, the FIA has decided to completely get rid of the overtaking boost as it believes the cars can maintain speed even when behind another car. The rear wing has been simplified as well, as the rules state the bottom of the rear wing cannot possess any vertical elements or cut-outs, helping the car behind avoid turbulent air.